Last month, a giant BRISBANE sign at South Bank became a global icon; the focal point for the G20 cultural celebrations and the 3000 media representatives who covered them.

You might think that it was the creation of a high-end marketing company, but it was actually built by a bunch of every day blokes. Their office? A shed.

The Australian Men’s Sheds Association’s mission to improve men’s health and wellbeing has taken the humble backyard shed and turned it into a cultural sensation. In 2010, Queensland had 13 Sheds. Today it has 140. Graeme Curnow, Foundation President of Shed West (located in Kenmore) and the current President of the Queensland Men’s Sheds Association explained, “Many men are marginalised through retirement and other factors. They’re living longer but they often don’t know what to do with their time. Men’s Sheds offer an outlet to find new friends, develop new skills and connect with the community.”

Eight Sheds from Labrador to Buderim joined forces to build the BRISBANE sign before decoration was added by community groups, including Pride Festival, Griffith University Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art and Queensland Country Women’s Association. Premier Campbell Newman said, “The BRISBANE sign (is) a memorable representation of the diversity of our people and the role that Brisbane’s cultural, arts and not for profits associations play in our community.”

While Men’s Sheds may be synonymous with older blokes, there are no barriers to membership. Graeme added, “Men’s Sheds are open to all. In Sydney there is a Shed with a mix of indigenous Australians, Middle Eastern and Vietnamese blokes. At Shed West our oldest member is 94 and our youngest is a 15-year old boy who comes to learn handyman skills from the older men. We have some amazing craftsmen and photographers, a computer room and a calendar packed with guest speakers. We can always learn something new from each other.”

Retired journalist, lecturer and Shed member Phil Castle points out the vital role Sheds plays in supporting mental health and wellbeing. “It can give some men a reason to get out of bed and provides companionship to those who may feel lonely or desperate. Men find it hard to talk about mental health issues, but the question we always ask around here is, ‘How you travelling?’ That’s enough to get people talking.”

Currently, West End does not have a Shed of its own. I asked Graeme how interested locals could change that? “In the first instance,” he said, “I would recommend speaking to Brisbane City Council’s Community Services. They are very supportive and may be able to help you find a suitable venue. You then need to encourage community consultation through bodies such as the RSL, Chamber of Commerce, churches and Rotary.”

Men’s Sheds build self worth, improve mental health and wellbeing, contribute to society and encourage mateship. What’s more, they are bulging at the seam with a wealth of knowledge and life experience. Come on West End, it’s time to get a Shed of our own.

Words and images by Colin Bushell